New simulation creates a universe with galaxies just like the real deal

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Interstellar gas forming galaxies in EAGLE

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Astronomers have created a simulation of the universe that includes more realistic galaxies similar in mass, size and age to real observed galaxies, enabling better research into how the cosmos evolved into its current state over the past 14 billion years.

The international team of astronomers led by professor Joop Schaye of Leiden University used supercomputers at Durham University (UK) and in Paris (the GENCI "Curie" system) to form the simulation known as EAGLE (Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments). The EAGLE team says that it was able to create a more accurate reflection of real galaxies by incorporating strong galactic winds into the simulation. These winds comes from stars, supernova explosions and supermassive black holes and blow away the gas supply used in the formation of stars, creating galaxies that are lighter and younger.

In earlier simulations the galactic winds were weaker, causing galaxies to form earlier in the model than in the real, observed universe. For the record, a team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Illustris Project also announced earlier this year that it had created a highly accurate model of the universe.

The EAGLE simulation at three levels of magnification

"The universe generated by the computer is just like the real thing," said Richard Bower from Durham University who co-authored a paper on the simulation. "There are galaxies everywhere, with all the shapes, sizes and colors I've seen with the world's largest telescopes. It is incredible. In the EAGLE universe I can even press a button to make time run backwards."

With a model that produces galaxies like the real thing, the researchers hope that EAGLE can be used as a tool to explore the history of how we got from the Big Bang to the present.

"This is the start of a new era for us," said co-author Rob Crain from Liverpool John Moores University. "We can now manipulate the conditions of the Universe and study the evolution of galaxies throughout the past 14 billion years."

The results have been published in the January 2015 edition of Monthly Notices from the Royal Astronomical Society.

You can watch the dazzling evolution of intergalactic gas into galaxies in one of the simulations from the EAGLE team in the video below.

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